It’s the most appealing shot of a golfer’s career, but there was a bittersweet aftertaste to Viktor Hovland’s extraordinary hole-in-one on Thursday – it arrived 24 hours too early.
Playing in the final practice session before the 44th edition of the Ryder Cup gets underway on Friday, the Norwegian lit up Rome’s Marco Simone Golf Club with a sensational ace on the par-four fifth hole.
Skirting the expected route of laying up on the fairway, the 26-year-old rocketed his drive 376 yards from tee to flag, his ball sailing comfortably over the water guarding the green before trickling into the cup.
Cue raucous cheers among the crowds gathered at the green to watch, with Hovland being mobbed by his European teammates after the noise snaked its way back up the fairway to the tee.
Signature European chants of ‘Olé, olé, olé, olé’ ringing in his ears, Hovland was serenaded on his walk to the hole before retrieving his ball and lobbing it into the crowd.
Those same fans will be hoping for repeat heroics across the rest of the week as Team Europe captain Luke Donald and Co. look to avenge a crushing defeat at Whistling Straits in 2021.
In Hovland, they boast a star more than capable of turning the tide. The Oklahoma State University alumni endured a baptism of fire on his Ryder Cup debut two years ago, going 0-3-2, but has risen to become one of the game’s finest players in the period since.
This season, three PGA Tour wins and minimum top-13 finishes in all four majors have rocketed Hovland to world No. 4 and given him the confidence to improve his record at the tournament.
“I felt like I played okay [in 2021], but I lacked the special things in the matches where you really flip the momentum around,” Hovland told reporters Tuesday.
“I think this time around with all the work that I’ve done on the short game and some of the accomplishments that I’ve made in the last few tournaments and throughout the year, I feel like I’m a lot more accomplished.
“There’s a belief and a confidence that I can get myself out of any situation, and I think that’s a huge turnaround from last time.”
Though the US is spearheaded by world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, the presence of Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and Spain’s Jon Rahm in Rome means Team Europe fields three of the world’s top four, though Hovland believes rankings go “out the window” this week.
What remains strong, however, is a burning desire to win for Europe – even if it stops short of an outright hostility towards the opposition that has infamously boiled over at previous Ryder Cups such as the “War on the Shore” in 1991.
“I can’t speak for the guys that played in the past, but it seems that we probably hate each other less than guys used to,” Hovland said.
“Sure, hate is a big motivator to do well – that’s just a fact. But I think where we are now, we’re more motivated maybe to win for our country and continent. We want to win for Europe.
“Obviously, we want to beat the Americans, we enjoy that, but it’s not because we hate the other team. It’s because we love Europe and we want to do well for the people that support us.”